“When Groom began, in 2004, I worked out of the spare room in the apartment in which my ever-patient wife, Míde, and I live. It’s a small, well-lit room with nice acoustics. I wrote and demoed the first couple of Groom releases there using a fairly basic recording setup and my computer. However, we now have three daughters – Norah, Anna and Lois – and the room has become exclusively theirs. Sacrificing my music space for the kids was a no-brainer, as I’m happy to write a song anywhere, or try to at least. I guess the real difficulty is time. With three kids and a day job you seldom even get five spare minutes. The girls want to grab the guitar strings, twist the tuning knobs, or else get me to sing one of their favourite songs, such as ‘Round the Mulberry Bush’.
But thankfully, despite this time difficulty, since my unceremonious ousting from the room my songwriting hasn’t slowed down at all. In fact, I have found that having the girls has given me more confidence, ideas and inspiration. There’s certainly never a dull moment with them around. My writing has become something I do sort of “on the fly.” For example, on our latest album, At the Natural History Museum, I wrote the music for the title song one evening at home. Then I went out and walked along the canal (a great place to think of ideas), and after an hour’s walk, I had the core idea for the song. Then a couple of days later I went into the Natural History Museum itself with a notepad and wrote the words.
With domestic requirements forcing me to adapt in whatever way I can, I am always on the lookout for new ways of writing. I have learned how to write songs in my head, which is actually a real pain in the neck and not something I’d recommend. ‘Death of a Songwriter’ was written in my head while walking quickly home from work; hence its sort of “walking-pace” beat. I wrote ‘Let’s Die Together’ at work and kept e-mailing it to myself over the course of a couple of weeks. ‘Mythical Creatures’ was written on holidays in Kerry while the girls watched cartoons. Once I have written a song, I can’t stop thinking about it until I’ve worked out how it’s supposed to work with the band, because I like to write for the band, not just for the guitar. I like to be sure what I want the song to do, how I want it to feel. I lie awake at night till two or three A.M. thinking about it, sometimes (tiring, when you have to get up at 6am with the kids! But the way I look at it, if you can’t sleep it’s a good way of passing the time.)
From that point on, I bash the song out with the band in our shared practice space off North Frederick Street. We practice twice a week, and I go there after the kids have gone to sleep. This is almost as important to me as the songwriting itself. The moulding of the song with the band is an arduous, collaborative process that involves lots of reworkings, discussion and arguments. The band contribute their individual parts. We try to keep things loose and let everyone do what they feel is right — but the song is always the guide. It’s good fun and very rewarding.
Having said that, the song doesn’t rule all. Being with the family has placed music firmly into second place in my list of priorities, and “the song” seems happy with that. It’s less pressure on it. I’m not phoning up all the time, wanting to hang out. And when I do call, the conversation is more relaxed. I would bid a sorry farewell to it all — the songwriting, the band, the recording — if Míde and the kids wanted me to. But that has never come up. And who knows, maybe some day the time will come when the girls will write their own songs. If that happens, I’ll be happy to be the audience instead of the writer. We’re now moving on from our little apartment, to find somewhere with a little more space. I’ll be sad to leave but it’s okay. I’ve realised in the last few years that my musical room is not a physical place but a living, breathing, mobile entity and, so long as I take care of it, it’ll hopefully take care of me, wherever we go.”
Musical Rooms was talking to Michael Stevens of Groom
Groom began life in 2004 in Dublin, arising out of the ashes of alt-folk band Settler. Starting off as an electro-folk two piece centred around the songwriting of Michael Stevens, they released a short experimental album, Stitch. Groom soon expanded into a four-piece and began to explore synth-folk-rock territory. They released their first album proper, All This Happened, More Or Less on Fairview House Recordings. Its follow-up, At the Natural History Museum was released earlier this year. Groom are Michael Stevens (guitar, vocals, synths), Jeroen Saegeman (guitar, melodica, keyboards), Wil McDermott (bass, synths), Brian O’Higgins (drums), and Ruan Van Vliet (drums, percussion, synth, autoharp). They are supporting Herm, Upstairs at Whelan’s on Saturday August 22nd. For more information visit www.myspace.com/groomtheband.